Jason Rezaian: Iran’s Nuclear Hostage?

From the warmth of its people to the oppression of its government, Iran is a nation of polarities. Pictured: the Holy Shrine of Abdulazim. (Photo: David Stanley / Flickr Commons)

From the warmth of its people to the oppression of its government, Iran is a nation of polarities. Pictured: the Holy Shrine of Abdulazim. (Photo: David Stanley / Flickr Commons)

Recently my wife and I were watching an old episode of CNN’s Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown in which, after years of trying, he managed to gain entry into Iran. As the show revealed, aside from the food (as heavily meat-based as any country’s), which he liked, Iran is a nation of huge dichotomies. Bourdain claimed the people were the most welcome he had ever met. But many Iranians filmed for the show, in interviews and in public spaces, seemed as if they were restraining themselves from demonstrating their love of life lest they catch of the Revolutionary Guard’s paramilitary basij forces.

At one point Bourdain conducted a lengthy interview with an Iran-American journalist for the Washington Post and his Iranian wife. They were both clearly in love with Iran. Wait, I thought, is that…? Yes, as Bourdain explained in a postscript at the end of the show, Jason Rezaian had since been arrested, along with his wife.

He was arrested why exactly? In the New York Times, Rick Gladstone reports on Rezaian’s recently adjourned trial.

Iran has many laws that are written so vaguely they can be applied to almost any situation, and it remains possible that Mr. Rezaian did, intentionally or not, violate some aspect of Iran’s legal code simply by gathering information — doing his job as a journalist.

Meanwhile, in the New Yorker, Amy Davidson reports of Rezaian: “His writing about Iran had been marked by cultural generosity and care.” She then attempts to figure out what may have triggered his arrest. (Hair-triggered is more like it. Funny (ha-ha) how security forces in repressive countries behave like the type of parent or significant other, around whom you have to walk on eggshells lest they lash out at you for reasons you struggle to understand? This includes the U.S. government with its vendettas against whistleblowers.)

Rezaian’s trial began last Tuesday, just a few weeks after his family finally learned what crimes he may have been charged with: espionage, collaborating with hostile governments, and “propaganda against the establishment.” Even then, the news came through a lawyer whom Rezaian had not chosen and who has met with him only briefly.

Whatever the case, as Gladstone writes, “speculation has intensified that the facts of the case, or lack of them, will have little bearing on the outcome.” Instead, the trial

… comes just weeks before a final deadline for agreement in the nuclear talks, a moment that could portend a basic improvement in relations between the United States and Iran. While President Hassan Rouhani of Iran wants that agreement, it is no secret that he has internal adversaries who see the agreement as a threat, and who may view the Rezaian case as leverage.

“If there is a conviction in the Rezaian case and no leniency, it can create a crisis in the nuclear talks, yet another complication,” said Trita Parsi, the president of the National Iranian American Council, an advocacy group in Washington.

Meanwhile Ms. Davidson writes:

Mohammad Javad Zarif, the foreign minister and the lead nuclear negotiator, who dealt with Rezaian as a reporter before his arrest, said in April that he hoped “my friend Jason” would be acquitted, but he also insinuated that American intelligence might have “tried to take advantage” of Rezaian.

She explains: “This may be interpreted as the expedient equivocating of a nonetheless reform-minded official, but” — in an understatement — “it is not reassuring.”